Police chiefs have been preparing plans to quell any disorder after a no-deal Brexit and have said it would mean the loss of an array of vital crime-fighting tools, with any replacements being less effective.
They have planned exercises for different scenarios when Britain leaves the EU on 29 March, and already have existing plans to mobilise up to 7,000 officers in an emergency, which resulted from the lessons of the 2011 riots that erupted across England.
Police made it clear they have no intelligence to suggest disorder or severe disruption, but have been considering if and how they would handle a no-deal Brexit leading to chaos on the streets.
Attention has been focused on possible disruption around the port of Doverin Kent, but two sources with knowledge of law enforcement discussions said the potential concerns went wider, to other ports and places where cargo and goods enter the UK.
One senior source said: “What are you going to do with all the lorries around Hull, Felixstowe, Portsmouth, New Haven?” amid concerns no deal would lead to long queues. Another source said shortages of food and medicines could trigger disorder.
Police chiefs at an extraordinary meeting on Monday considered whether it was necessary to cancel or curtail police leave in the weeks before and after Britain’s departure from the EU. They decided against it, but forces will keep that decision under review.
One senior source said: “We can ramp things up very quickly if we need to. The preparation for this is always in place.”
Another source said any mass national mobilisation would be for far longer than seen in recent years, lasting for weeks and disrupting regular policing.
Due to government cuts, there are 21,000 fewer officers compared with the national mobilisation to quell the 2011 riots. Police chiefs doubt they could send officers across the country to deal with serious disruption and at the same time keep their own areas safe.
An intelligence unit would be set up to review collected intelligence, assess threats and consider if existing plans to tackle disorder could cope.
Chief constable Charlie Hall, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC)lead for operations, said: “At this stage, we have no intelligence to suggest there will be an increase in crime or disorder as a result of a Brexit deal or no deal.
“As you would expect these plans will need to be dynamic, and will change in response to what will undoubtedly be a changing threat assessment.”
The NPCC also said a unit had been set up to limit any potential damage to its fight against terrorism and serious and organised crime from a no-deal Brexit, including losing access to 40 tools such as the European arrest warrant and information sharing.
Sara Thornton, the chair of the NPCC, said: “Existing EU tools allow us to respond quickly and intelligently to crime and terrorism in the UK and the EU – they make us better at protecting the public.
“The alternatives we are planning to use, where they exist, are without exception slower, more bureaucratic and ultimately less effective.”
Police say they have access to 40 crime-fighting tools through Britain’s EU membership. Richard Martin, the police chief lead on international policing, said a no-deal Brexit would make it harder to arrest the two Russian novichok suspects if the two men left Russia and entered an EU country. A European arrest warrant has been issued for the pair.
Martin said for every suspect arrested under the European arrest warrant who is wanted by British police, officers in the UK arrest eight on behalf of their European colleagues.
Europe-wide measures have become part of the everyday life of police officers. The Schengen information system, allowing officers to check if EU nationals were wanted by police in their home countries, was used 539m times by British police last year.
Under current measures it takes six days to check if a foreign national has criminal convictions elsewhere. Under any replacement system in the event of no deal, that could take 66 days.